The spectacle of tonight's match-up has been building since the NHL unveiled the 2010-11 schedule: Steve Yzerman's team faces off against Steve Yzerman's team. Yes, there's the fact of the matter that Detroit is playing Tampa Bay at Times Palace tonight, but the focus is on Steve Yzerman and his near-three-decade connection to the Detroit Red Wings.
It's been the story all week. There was a conference call on Monday with Stevie Y; there was a press availability with Yzerman earlier in the week; the St. Pete Times and Tampa Tribune both covered Yzerman facing the franchise he is associated with for the first time ever. I don't want to even guess how many stories of the like are running in Detroit.
newsflash, this is only one piece of a grander story of the Lightning season. One small piece of the drama of the Lightning's current week of games.
Last night the Washington Capitals won a thriller in Anaheim -- 7-6 the final over the ducks. That means the Bolts lead in the Southeast Division slipped to 4 games. Nate Thompson skated yesterday, and has targeted tonight for a return... He skated with Dana Tyrell and Adam Hall this morning.
It'll be a sell-out tonight at the Forum, and commissioner Gary Bettman will be in the building. Lets just not get lost in the sideshow and focus on the matter at hand, shall we? Two point against a Western Conference opponent.
Speaking of the Western Conference, have you seen the standings over there? This isn't just a testament about the oddness of the standings (the 4th thru 8th seeds are tied with 68 points, there are only 7 points between the 2nd seeded team in the West (who happen to be the Red Wings) and the 9th place team in the conference (Los Angeles).
Speaking of the Wings, they have 74 points - the same total as Tampa Bay. Their records are identical as well -- well, almost. Detroit has one less game played than Tampa Bay (56 to 57), and one less loss. Their power play statistics are also almost identical 20.8% conversion rate and 5th in the NHL for the Lightning; 20.6% conversion rate, sixth in the NHL for Detroit. The Wings have the 2nd most goals-per-game average in the league (3.30) while the Bolts are 5th (2.98). Both teams suffer from high goals-allowed per game averages as well (3.04 for the Lightning, 2.88 for Detroit).
It's rare the Bolts face off against Detroit, but it's even rarer when both teams match up so well.
The teams do diverge on the penalty kill: the Wings are 19th in the league when they are a man down (81.1% effectiveness on the Penalty kill); the Bolts are 9th (83.6). Will it factor in tonight? I couldn't even guess with how the Lightning power play has operated int he 2nd half.
Henrik Zetterberg leads the Red Wings in points (61; 17 goals, 44 assists) in their well-rounded offensive attack.
Full game coverage on SB Nation